Setting Up Your Home Office
Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent Stay at Home Orders for “non-essential" businesses, many members of the workforce have now set up home offices. Working from home may be new to some people and, while remaining safe from the virus is the goal, safety from another perspective is important as you need to set up a workspace that is ergonomically sound. Ergonomics is the application of psychological and physiological principles to the design of products or systems.
Although it may be tempting to just sit in bed or on the couch with your laptop all day, it will be beneficial to set up your workspace to facilitate long-term comfort. Without implementing ergonomic best practices, working conditions can make you more susceptible to musculoskeletal ailments such as fatigue, lack of circulation, lower back and neck pain, wrist and shoulder discomfort, muscle tightness and cramping, eye strain, and physical stress.
In order to protect yourself, take some additional time to set up your workspace ergonomically, particularly if you are new to working from home or may not have access to standard office furnishings. Even if your only workspace is your kitchen table, there are ways to create a safe space conducive to productivity. The major areas to focus on are maintaining a neutral posture, adjusting your seating and monitor positioning, regulating your environment’s lighting and noise levels, and taking periodic breaks. Below are some best practices in these areas to ensure your home office is ergonomically sound.
Maintain A Neutral Posture
You’ve heard this before... a good posture at work is key to reducing neck and back strain as well as wrist and shoulder discomfort. Here are some simple yet effective ways to maintain your posture at home and reduce the risk to injury:
- Relax your shoulders back and down, sit up straight.
- Remember—90-90-90. Keep your elbows at 90° when typing or writing, this will help to maintain a comfortable height for your arms and wrists as well. Hips at 90° and knees at 90° when sitting. To maintain this, keep your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
- Keep your body, head, keyboard, and monitor facing straight ahead to maintain proper alignment. Avoid turning your head too often or for extended periods of time.
- Raise your monitor so the top of the screen is at or slightly below eye level. If your desk or countertop is too low, get creative! Use some books, or cereal boxes to elevate your screen.
- Use an adjustable chair to avoid sitting too low/high in relation to your workstation. If you do not have one, use pillows or blankets to boost yourself up.
Seating and Monitor Set Up
You may not have a standard office chair with built-in lumbar support at home, but there are ways to create an ergonomically correct seating situation on your own! Proper seating will help to reduce back and neck pain and increase circulation.
- Use a desk chair. Couches and beds can be comfortable for a little while; however, they often do not have good back support and cause you to look down at your computer screen—which can cause neck strain. A sturdy chair in front of a table, desk, or countertop is the best foundation to sustaining long-term comfort and productivity.
- Make sure your chair has back support. If it does not, place a pillow or a rolled-up towel in between your back and the chair.
- Place monitor 20-40 inches (about an arm’s length) away from the eyes. Screens larger than a laptop should be placed a bit farther away. Dual screens should be placed close together and at the same height and brightness level, so your eyes do not need to re-focus when looking back and forth.
Indoor Environmental Quality
Keeping a good indoor atmosphere is a great way to reduce eye strain, headaches and fatigue. The quality of lighting, indoor air, noise levels, and overall cleanliness of your space can also have a large effect on your attitude, level of focus, and overall health—either positive or negative.
- Utilize natural lighting and reduce fluorescent lighting as much as possible. Reduce blue light emitted from your screen as much as possible. Yellowish tints are easier on the eyes. Position your monitor so it is perpendicular to light sources to reduce glare.
- Get some fresh air—bring your work outside or open a window. Especially if your indoor workspace has inefficient ventilation, outdoor air can really help to energize you and think more clearly.
- Keep your workspace clean and organized. A cluttered workspace can be distracting and prohibit productivity.
- Limit distractions. Being at home can be very distracting. Try to remove yourself from distraction by moving away from any chores that need to be done; set the kids up with an activity to do. A way to limit distractions is to use your typical morning commute time to get some house-hold chores done before you begin your workday.
- Reduce unnecessary background noise as much as possible. Set your workspace up in a quiet room, play soft music in the background, etc.
Take Breaks and Move Around
Taking breaks every few hours or as needed to move around, stretch, get a caffeine boost—while staying hydrated, of course—will help to increase circulation, reduce eye strain, reduce fatigue, and keep you focused. Use some of the following as a guide to effective break-taking strategies.
- Change your posture often. Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day to alternate the muscles you are utilizing. Standing for portions of the day can take strain off of your lower back and increase circulation in your legs. While standing, make sure you are continuing to follow the guidelines for posture and monitor placement listed in the first two sections above. If you have one, a standing desk or a high countertop can be useful when standing at your workstation. Otherwise, a few boxes can do the trick!
- Stretch throughout the day to avoid cramping muscles and improve circulation. Sitting or standing in the same position for hours on end can put strain on your muscles and increase fatigue. Stretching is a good way to wake up the body and keep you focused.
- Take eye-breaks. Follow the 20-20-20 rule—look away from your computer screen every 20 minutes for about 20 seconds by looking at things at least 20 feet away.
- Get up and walk around. Perhaps exercise during your lunch break or integrate small exercises thorough out the workday.
It is easy to forget about these best practices and slip out of a neutral posture and into a slouch, forget to take breaks or look away from your screen, etc. Try going through a morning checklist of how your workspace should be set up. Another idea is to write notes to yourself in obvious places or set periodic alarms to remind yourself to regain proper posture, take eye-breaks, stretch or walk around, hydrate, etc. Now that we are all getting used to this new-normal of working from home every day, it’s important to integrate these best practices into your daily workday routine.
For more guidance on setting up your workstation, use OSHA’s Ergonomics eTool.
Heather Nortz is the Sustainability Programs Coordinator for PRINTING United Alliance. Her primary responsibilities consist of running both the Sustainable Business Recognition and Safety Recognition Award Programs. She also contributes to industry specific research on matters of sustainability trends and environmental safety and health regulations. She regularly publishes articles and blog posts on these topics and consistently updates the PRINTING United Alliance website with advocacy related content. Nortz recently graduated from George Mason University with her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and a concentration in Human and Ecosystems Response to Climate Change.